There was a very unusual headline coming out of Iceland this week. Well, unusual for that country anyway.
It seems police shot and killed a man who started shooting at police when they entered his building. What makes this story so unusual, extraordinary even, is that it's the first time someone has been killed by armed police in Iceland since it became an independent republic in 1944.
"The nation was in shock. This does not happen in our country," Thora Arnorsdottir, a news editor at the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, told Public Radio International.
In fact, most police don't even carry weapons in Iceland, and violent crime there is almost non-existent.
"The nation does not want its police force to carry weapons because it's dangerous, it's threatening," Arnorsdottir said. "It's part of the culture. Guns are used to go hunting as a sport, but you never see a gun."
GunPolicy.org estimates there are about 90,000 guns in Iceland, a country with just over 300,000 people. The country ranks 15th in the world in terms of legal per capita gun ownership. However, Iceland suffered only four deaths as a result of firearms in 2009, the last year for which data was available, according to GunPolicy.org. By comparison, the United States had 31,347 gun-related deaths that same year. That breaks down to 1.25 gun deaths per 100,000 people in Iceland, and 10.22 per 100,000 in the U.S.
"A part of the great thing about living in this country is that you can enter parliament and the only thing they ask you to do is turn off your cell phone, so you don't disturb the parliamentarians while they're talking," Arnorsdottir told PRI. "We do not have armed guards following our prime minister or president. That's a part of the great thing of living in a peaceful society."
This incident was so rare that neighbors of the man shot were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film, PRI reports.
And there lies a cold, hard truth: America has an unenviable, worldwide reputation of being a violent society. The key question is, why? Some blame movies and video games for poisoning our minds, and the guns themselves for giving us the means to carry out the violence we see on the screen.
However, according to a BBC report, Iceland's peaceful culture can be attributed to three key factors.
First, there is virtually no difference among upper, middle and lower classes in Iceland. And with that, tension between economic classes is non-existent. A study of the Icelandic class system done by a University of Missouri master's student found only 1.1 percent of participants identified themselves as upper class, while 1.5 percent saw themselves as lower class. The remaining 97 percent identified themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class or working class.
Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, former chairman of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Alliance, told BBC that equality was the biggest reason for the nation's relative lack of crime. "Here you can have the tycoon's children go to school with everyone else," he said, adding that the country's social welfare and education systems promoted an egalitarian culture.
Second, while the country is not anti-gun, acquiring one is not an easy process. Steps to gun ownership include a medical examination and a written test.
Finally, there are, comparatively speaking, few hard drugs in Iceland, BBC reports. According to a 2012 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, use among 15- to 64-year-olds in Iceland of cocaine was 0.9 percent, of ecstasy 0.5 percent and of amphetamines 0.7 percent.
The issues of income inequality, gun control and drug use in America are easily identified, but unfortunately the solutions so far have eluded us. Perhaps we can look to Iceland for some ideas.